Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Happy Layoff Day!

We're really having winter here this year. When I opened the front door to get my newspaper this morning, it was snowing! We usually only have wintery precipitation about once a year, if that, and this is our fourth or fifth episode this year. I'm running out of cute sweaters to wear to class.

It just occurred to me that today is a momentous anniversary. Five years ago today, I was laid off from my job. That was part of the chain of events that led to me being where I am today. Five years and maybe a few days or a week or so ago, I first had the idea that grew into my series (I don't know the exact date because at the time I didn't realize that this wacky little idea that popped into my head would end up changing my life, so I didn't make a note of it on my calendar). Three years ago today, I mailed the proposal for what would go on to become Enchanted, Inc. to the agent who would end up selling it for me. I did write that down.

Here's the story: My previous career was in public relations, first for a medical center, and then for some PR agencies, where I worked primarily on technology clients. I sold my first three books while I was working at the medical center, then between the time I submitted a proposal for a fourth book and the time they bought it, I changed jobs to work at the first agency. I sold the fifth book while at that job. Then the dry spell hit. I was still figuring out what to write next when I got a new job, and that job had a lot more responsibility and a lot more travel. I got back into writing, finished a book and got an agent. That book got rejected, but with some very nice comments and requests to see something else. I was trying to write something else, but the day job was driving me insane. I hated the work I was doing (it had a lot to do with my phone phobia -- spending the day calling people is a bad job for someone who hates the phone), I was out of town all the time, and I was exhausted. I finally had a total meltdown and said that I was going to quit. I had enough money in savings to live on for a while and thought I could freelance some, but I wanted to write. Instead of letting me quit, my supervisor worked out a deal with the director to let me work a 3/4 time schedule, enough hours to qualify for benefits, but not full-time, and telecommute. I could do all the technical PR writing for the company and work as a kind of writing coach for the rest of the staff. It was perfect. The next year and a half or so of that job were probably the happiest I'd been in my whole career. Because work came in spurts, and because my part-time salary meant I couldn't work overtime, that meant I usually could take a whole day off each week, or several off at the end of the month. I still traveled quite a bit, but it felt less stressful, and I knew I could take time off at the end of a trip since a business trip usually meant a lot of extra hours. Oddly enough, though, I didn't get much writing done. I was just enjoying living, for a change. I did get the next book finished, and then it was out there for a long time (supposedly) with no response, so I hadn't really started on anything else.

But at about the end of that time, things went downhill. My supervisor went to work in another office, and the person who took her place didn't seem to get me. She was also a bit paranoid and insecure. If you ever read Dilbert, she was basically the "Topper" character. Whenever anyone mentioned a bit of experience from another job that might be useful, she would immediately have to top it. We were discussing going after a client in the health care arena, and I, of course, mentioned the five years I'd worked at a major medical center. She immediately "remembered" having done a big health care project in another job. She did this even to the interns. It was insane. I think she was also a little threatened by me because I was at a level where if I'd wanted the job she had, I probably could have had it. The only saving grace was the office director, who seemed to appreciate what I could do, but then he left. I started planning my escape. Just before the end of 2001 I bought my own laptop so I'd have a good computer if I lost the business one. Then when they announced that the new director would be someone I used to work with at a previous job -- and he was the one person in my whole career with whom I'd ever had a hallway screaming match -- I started saving important files onto disks. I really saw the writing on the wall when I was totally shut out of a meeting to plan the pitch to retain our biggest client. It was during this stressful time that I came up with that wacky story idea one morning when I was dragging myself up the stairs to my home office, and the idea got me excited enough to decide that given everything that was going on, this might be a good time to finally force myself to go freelance. But then the agency lost the biggest client (due partially, as I later learned, to the fact that I wasn't at the meeting), and I was on the chopping block.

So, on January 31, 2002, I got the call to come to the office and turn in my computer, company credit card and office keys. I was a little scared, rather angry about the way it was handled, but oddly elated. Fortunately, I had something to look forward to. I'd been late to the game reading the Harry Potter books. I'd read the first one about a year earlier and had the second two from a trip to England but hadn't read them yet. That year right around the New Year, I'd finally read them, and I'd put my name on the waiting list at the library to get Goblet of Fire. I'd finally got it that week and was planning to spend the weekend reading. Being laid off meant I got to start my reading earlier. I got home from turning in my stuff and being officially laid off, made some tea, and curled up on the chaise lounge to read. I don't know if it was the associations or the catharsis it offered, or what, but that was one of my favorite reading experiences ever. I kept laughing out loud, to the point I had to stop and put the book down for a while, and then when it turned tragic at the end, I bawled. Maybe the book really did make me that sad, or maybe it was just the way I channeled all my emotions. I think I identified with how alone and isolated poor Harry felt without a family because my parents were on a cruise in New Zealand at the time, so on a day when something major had happened to me and when I kind of needed my Mommy, it was the one time in my entire life when I absolutely couldn't reach her. That's still possibly my favorite book in the series, and I'm not entirely sure if it's because of the book or because of all the baggage I brought to reading it at that time.

The day after I got laid off, the huge client my agency had lost, which led to my being laid off, called and hired me as a freelancer, so I had a feeling I'd be okay. I had a couple of tough years, got a lot more rejections and was more or less abandoned by my old agent, but I did write that book, I got a new agent, the book sold, and now look where I am! I think that's cause for celebrating layoff day.

1 comment:

Amanda Ashby said...

Happy layoff Day, Shanna!!! Sounds like it was the best thing that ever happened to